Challenge Aspen uphill creates opportunities for disabled locals

Jill Beathard | The Aspen Times
Aspen resident Leah Potts is a recovering quadriplegic who skis with the help of outriggers in place of poles. Potts just took up skinning this winter and is participating for her first time in this weekend's Challenge Aspen Chris Bove Memorial Uphill.
Courtesy photo |

If you Go ...

Challenge Aspen Chris Bove Memorial Uphill

7:30 a.m., Feb. 20

Snowmass ski area: Course follows route from Base Village to Elk Camp Restaurant

Race followed by celebration at Elk Camp Restaurant, including prizes and pancake breakfast

Pre-registration $45; race-day registration $55

Register at

After her skiing accident in 1999, Leah Potts didn’t know if she’d ever hike, ski or run again. It wasn’t clear whether she would even walk — or write, or give someone a hug.

At 23 years old, she was paralyzed from the neck down. But she made a decision to not let her story end there. Through daily exercise, she has continued to improve her mobility in the 17 years since her accident. She used to teach spinning classes at the Aspen Club. This winter, she took up skinning. And on Saturday, she will skin up Snowmass Ski Area wearing a race bib just like everyone else participating in the Challenge Aspen Chris Bove Memorial Uphill.

“For anyone out there who’s wanting to heal, they should know that I’m stronger than I’ve ever been,” Potts said Thursday. “Everyone deserves a second chance to heal from their binding constraints.”

This will be Potts’ first time to participate in the uphill, which raises money for a scholarship for Roaring Fork Valley residents seeking to participate in Challenge Aspen programs. The scholarship was created in memory of Chris Bove, a ski instructor who taught with Challenge Aspen, after he died in a skiing accident the same weekend the uphill was occurring in 2007.

The race was renamed because of the emotional impact of Bove’s death to the Challenge Aspen team, but also, as his father, Fred Bove, put it Thursday, because of his “commitment to Challenge Aspen and his interest in being a supporter of handicapped skiers finding another dimension to life.”

“After he died, we thought it important to combine that tradition,” Fred Bove said.

Even though they’re scattered across the country, Chris Bove’s parents, brother and sister and their families have participated in every uphill since his death. The Boves visit with Chris’ Challenge Aspen colleagues and the many friends he had in the Aspen area, including Sam Ferguson, who with the help of Chris’ Bove’s coaching became a Winter X Games star in monoskiing.

“It’s very emotional, but it’s also uplifting,” said his mother, Sandy Bove. “(The uphill) prolongs his legacy and keeps the Challenge people teaching and that program moving forward.”

Potts knows all too well the opportunities provided by Challenge Aspen scholarships. She was this year’s recipient of a scholarship offered by the nonprofit, and it procured her a season ski pass, buddy passes and the ability to call anytime and arrange for a staff member to ski with her. Potts, who started skiing with Challenge Aspen in 2001, uses outriggers with short ski blades on the bottom instead of poles to help her balance.

“It’s almost the same equipment as anybody else’s,” Potts said, adding that she uses the outriggers for uphill and downhill skiing.

For Potts, Challenge Aspen has provided her access to the mountains — something we all want, she notes. And like many people might say, for her, skiing means “freedom.”

“I’ll walk around all day with a crutch, struggling, but then I get on the mountain and it’s easier, I can slide around on the snow, and I feel like I’m able-bodied again,” Potts said. “I love this town because everyone is included. Nobody’s left behind. And that’s what makes it awesome, organizations like Challenge Aspen and the community.”